It’s Thunder Trike, the super hero who roars into battle on a tricycle!
Or maybe just the guy with badly placed cover art.
In the 1990s, when heroes weren’t donning metallic versions of their union suits, they were running into copycats – Captain America had USAgent, Iron Man had War Machine and Thor had … Thunderstrike! Despite a shocking ponytail, the so-called ‘everyman Avenger’ headlined his own comic for a couple of years before being killed off. So he must have had his fans.
I wasn’t one – nothing against the guy, but one Thor/Cap/Iron Man was quite enough for me. And that hairdo …
Sixteen years on, he’s back, and I’m giving his first issue a try, mainly to see how writer Tom DeFalco approaches the mainstream Marvel Universe after years spent chaperoning Spider-Girl in an imaginary future. The other point of interest, given how many appalling outfits he wore in his previous short publishing existence, is to see how Marvel updates Thunderstrike’s look for the 21st century.
Not at all, as it happens – the hero returns in his best-known outfit, a combination of Thor’s iconic shirt, naff sleeveless leather jacket and that stupid ponytail. But there is one big difference – Eric Masterson remains dead, and his teenage son, Kevin, has inherited his body, along with his magical mace. Kev’s already an angry little snot, so heaven knows how he’ll react to looking like a guy rejected by the Village People for seeming too camp.
Kevin’s actually the only problem with this story. Oh sure, he’ll go on the old Hero’s Journey, and learn to be a better person, but by the time the process begins here he already has me hoping he’ll get eaten by a passing troll. He’s angry at some kid at his school for reasons unknown, his mother for moving the family to New York, his stepdad for trying to be a nice guy, the Avengers for supposedly letting his father get killed, his dad for getting killed … If the Thunderstrike mace had an enchantment akin to that which ensures Thor’s hammer can be lifted only by the worthy, Kevin would remain happily ponytail free.
As it is, America’s Top Cop (TM) Steve Rogers simply hands him the weapon because it’s legally his, brushing aside Girl Friday Sharon Carter’s protestations that the kid’s a loose cannon. ‘I’ve helped former super-villains go on to become the greatest Avengers,’ he points out.
And I’ve few doubts he’ll be proven right. The minute a crisis breaks out, Kevin steps up to help, and the spell connected to the mace kicks in, transforming him into Thunderstrike/Dad/Fabio. The final few pages of the story have Kevin and the new Rhino going at it hammer and tong, with DeFalco capturing Kevin’s eminently reasonable confusion rather well. It’s interesting to see how a bullying teenager’s attitude so easily translates into the righteous boasts of a superhero.
The fight scene is a wonderful example of old school Marvel – bombastic, unambiguous fun, courtesy of veteran penciller Ron Frenz and finisher Sal Buscema … there’s a reason these chaps have survived for decades in a competitive industry. They know how to tell a story, they know how to sell a story. There’s nothing especially innovative here, the reader is simply allowed to relax into the tale.
I’m not sure whether to credit Frenz, or the excellent letterer Dave Sharpe, but the sound effects are first class- there’s at least one brilliant homage to John Workman, whose calligraphy helped define an era of Thor. And colourist Bruno Hang does a decent job, though the lasting tonal impression is a tad brown for my liking.
So how does DeFalco cope, back in the 616 universe? Just fine. He knows how to craft a fast-moving, coherent comic strip – characters are introduced, backstory is woven in and the premise of the series is laid out, while the dialogue is more than decent.
But that’s not all he wrote. There’s a back-up, drawn by Todd Nauck, which shines a light on a moment of mystery in the lead strip, while spotlighting the many looks of Thunderstrike – verily, he be the Norse god of style disasters. It’s a useful recap for us newcomers which also manages to move the new story forward.
Thunderstrike #1 is a comfortable, enjoyable read, a great example of classic superheroics and I’ll be back next month to see what happens next. I hope the market has room for a well-done, fairly traditional comic book.